An unidentified merchant vessel has been reported hijacked by gunmen in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia in what is feared to be the latest in a surge of attacks on commericial shipping there, according to a maritime official.
If confirmed, the hijacking would bring to at least five the number of ships in the same area currently in the hands of pirates and would be the 33rd attack on ships in and around Somali waters since mid-March.
Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme (SAP) said his organization had been informed that a ship of unknown ownership and registry was seized early Tuesday.
"We were called by traders who frequent the Mogadishu-Mombasa route and informed that a new merchant ship has been hijacked off northeastern Somalia," Mwangura told.
He said the reports indicated the vessel was taken near the Somali town of Haradere, the base of pirates blamed for the spate of attacks that have prompted dire warnings to avoid the coast and calls for foreign intervention.
Until Tuesday, the International Maritime Board (IMB) had recorded 32 such incidents in the area since March 15, including a November 5 attack on a US-owned luxury ocean liner and two UN-chartered freighters carrying food aid.
In the past two weeks, Somali pirates have freed a hijacked Kenyan-owned cargo ship, the MV Torgelow, and its 10-man crew and Ukrainian vessel, the MV Panagia, and its crew of 22, both of which were seized in October.
Before Tuesday's reported incident, Somali pirates continued to hold at least four hijacked vessels, including the Thai-owned MV Laemthong Glory, and its unknown number of crew and three Taiwanese fishing boats with 48 sailors, the AFP reports.